In reality, this is how a lot of people with periods experience their menstrual cycle. We’ve also collectively been culturally conditioned through pop culture, school, religion, and society to carry immense shame around our menstrual cycles. Some are taught and told that our periods and cycles are dirty, unsanitary, difficult and inconvenient to ourselves and everyone around us (*cough cough* especially men). We internalize this and it negatively impacts our relationship with our bodies. The more that I started believing that my period could be an enjoyable experience and time in a month, the more I was able to change for the better. And in case you’re wondering if my period was ever really that bad…trust me, it was. I live with two major conditions related to my menstrual cycle (PMDD and Endometriosis) that have made the week before and the week of my period a living hell to say the least.
During my luteal phase, I used to have severe PMS and mental health issues so bad that I couldn't survive without anti-anxiety medication and SSRIs. During my menstrual phase, I used to have severe pain in my abdomen, legs, and lower back and would take anything from morphine to Tylenol 3’s to help me.
After a long journey (shared below) I can honestly say that my period is a sacred and beautiful time and one that I am able to experience without taking any medications and instead using natural treatments and remedies. My mental and physical symptoms are minimal and I genuinely look forward to getting my period because it allows me to connect deeply and meaningfully with my body and its natural rhythm, magic, and flows.This is not to say that using medical prescriptions or treatments is a negative or bad decision. As I mentioned, when I was really struggling I utilized medication available to help me. In fact, according to leading research on chronic pain, the most effective way to heal is to take a biopsychosocial (and spiritual) approach to pain and mix different types of modalities across all areas of your life to achieve holistic and integrative wellness. But it is important to know that there are natural options available for you to help you!!!
So how did I do this, and how might you also start approaching this for yourself? Here are 5 ways you can heal your menstrual cycle naturally (specifically when it comes to pain)
From cramps to prostaglandins - Educate yourself on what is actually going on in your body
While I don’t have enough space in this article to give a FULL biology lesson like the one we all deserved in high school, here is what a cramp actually is and why it happens.
Severe cramping is medically referred to as dysmenorrhea. During ovulation (mid-cycle), a biological chemical substance is released, ultimately producing specific prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are an integral part of our reproductive health and cycles. Some prostaglandins (such as PG2 and PGF) alpha which are pro-inflammatory, stimulate uterine contractions, which cause cramping. With each contraction, oxygen to the muscle tissue of the uterus is cut off as the blood vessels in the area are pinched. When the uterus loses oxygen for a few seconds we feel pain.
Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet
It has been shown that switching to an anti-inflammatory diet, or one that is primarily made up of whole and plant-based foods is an incredible way to decrease period pain and cramping. The reason for this is that many foods are actually prone to making pain worse due to their chemical and hormone properties. Red meat and dairy products for example contain arachidonic acids, which instigate the production of cramp-causing prostaglandins.
Foods you can rely on to help reduce your pain are bananas, seeds (flax, sunflower, sesame, pumpkin), ginger, and pineapples. These foods contain beneficial vitamins and minerals such as B6, E, zinc, magnesium, and bromelin, which have nutrients to ease cramping and balance hormone levels.
Some supplements to research that have benefits on pain are omega-3 Fatty Acids, magnesium, chaste tree (also known as vitex agnus castus), and vitamin E. Herbs may also be beneficial (drinking as a tea, potentially) including Red Raspberry Leaf, Nettles, Blue Vervain, Chamomile, and St Johns Bush.
Ease PMS or period symptoms by incorporating more movement
Many studies show that people who exercise regularly often have less period pain and negative mental symptoms. Making exercise a part of your daily, and weekly routine is a great way to balance your hormones and heal your menstrual cycle.
Furthermore, learning how to exercise and move in sync with your cycle will reap even more rewards for your overall health and well-being. Knowing which exercises to do and when is healing, liberating, and empowering. For example, you may choose to do easier workouts during your menstrual phase and harder ones during your ovulation phase to better align with your natural energy levels.
If you don’t know where to start when it comes to exercise, focus on low-impact bodyweight exercises such as yoga and pilates. Yoga in particular integrates relaxation techniques and relieves stress which ultimately relaxes the lower back and pelvic muscles. This helps to improve menstrual pain by reducing excess contractions in the pelvic area. Just avoid inversion poses.
Make time for JOY during your period
One of my personal favorite ways to heal my menstrual cycle naturally is by having something to look forward to when your period rolls around.
This not only boosts your mood but over time will change your relationship with your cycle because you start connecting it with something positive and pleasurable in your mind. Go inward and reflect upon which periods of your life you feel your best. What were you doing? What activities make you feel your best and why? Integrate those!
Take time to paint, write, listen to music, watch something you love, move, meditate, read or whatever makes you feel the happiest. This is also an effective way to distract yourself when and if you are experiencing pain.
Preparation for your menstrual cycle is key
Preparing for your period ahead of time allows you to reduce your stress and anxiety and make more time for the things that actually make you feel better. Set your hot water bottle or heating pad out so it's easy to find, organize your supplements and herbs on your kitchen counter, prep a few meals in advance and book a yoga class. Make sure your favorite Aisle products are clean and ready to use: ditch chemical-filled tampons & pads for organic materials for comfortable period underwear or cloth pads. Switching to reusables can have a surprisingly positive effect on your period symptoms.
Ultimately, creating rituals and routines around the various phases of your menstrual cycle ensures that you are able to improve your relationship with your body in the most natural way possible. Always remember that you have more power than you think you do when it comes to YOUR body and YOUR health. Building your health literacy and combining that with body agency and empowerment will improve your life and your menstrual cycle. It certainly did for me!
Domunique Lashay (she/her) is a menstrual health advocate, content creator and writer. Follow her on TikTok: @domuniquelashay
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